Monday, January 24, 2011

An experiment with water

I've been putting off doing this. I knew what the results would probably be and the thought of going through the hassle and expense of using special bottled water for my tea sessions pained me. But I'm dabbling in some mighty nice tea now and it can't be ignored any longer. Time to figure out just what effect different types of water has on the taste and experience of pu-erh.

What finally prompted me on this path are some samples I ordered from Stephane of TeaMasters who is widely regarded as having a particularly fine selection of teas. I've been disappointed to find myself unable to appreciate much about them and have been wondering how much is due to my immature palate and how much might be due to the water I've been using (tap water). I'm also curious about the kettle I'm using to boil the water in, but that will have to wait for another experiment. Stephane has a lot of great information on his blog about the effect of water and kettle and other parameters. I'm learning a lot from him.

For today's experiment I boiled tap water in one kettle and a brand of bottled watered called Fiji water in another kettle, brewing up two separate tea sessions side by side. In the pictures above and below the cups on the left are using the Fiji water and the cups on the right are with tap water. Clearly the Fiji water brings out more color in the soup, with a deeper orange hue. Taste and mouth feel was also much improved with the Fiji water. It had a much creamier quality to it. Thicker. The Fiji water tea also proved far more active in the mouth. More penetrating. More hui gan. The tap water tea, in comparison, was far more watery and flat.

Another interesting observation was found in the aroma of the leaves in the gaiwan. The tap water brought out lots of high overripe fruit notes in the leaves, while the leaves from the Fiji water tea had a much more balanced and refined aroma. Also, there was more of a classic pu-erh aroma with the Fiji water with plenty of woody notes and complexity. The aromas from the tap water tea tended toward occasional off-smells and just seemed more unsettled overall.

I've got a few different brands of bottled water I want to try out. I've also read of some people finding improvement by using home-filtered tap water with the addition of a few drops of trace minerals. I also want to play a little with bamboo charcoal, as well.


  1. You live in the Pacific Northwest, IIRC (something about the blog, or something, makes me think that). I used to live in Vancouver, and the water is very fine -- glacial stuff, I think, which also means that it's low in mineral content, generally speaking. I find that higher mineral content water brings out the darker flavours and will give the tea more body, while water with less dissolved solids will bring out the high notes, which is exactly what you're finding here. One way to solve this is perhaps to find a way to add something to the tap water before you use it for tea.

  2. If you are interested, I have a suggestion.
    I have used many different types of water, both bottled and tap, and one of the best waters there is, in my humble opinion, is Nestle PureLife.
    I am not an advocate or marketer for this this water in any way, just sharing a tip!

    Wonderful blog by the way! I am going to be spending time enjoying your posts!

  3. MarshalN -- Pacific NW, you guessed right. I've heard about people adding mineral drops to water. I plan to investigate that more. The blogger from Something Smuggled In is local too, and he's mentioned some sort of free well water near here that he uses.

    Sir William -- Another well-known tea name :) I'm honored once again :) Great tip about the Nestle water. I never would have tried that one due to the name, but I'll definitely seek it out now. Many thanks!

  4. I'd suggest staying away from Nestle Pure Life, mostly because that's just filtered tap water with minerals added back in -- you can do that for less money with just added minerals yourself.

  5. Where would one get a pack of minerals to add back into water? The only ones I have seen are by Cirqua.
    Nestle PureLife is relatively cheap in large quantities, which is what I did, until I got to my dorm. Now Brita is my weapon of choice!

  6. Stuff like this, I believe. I'm not endorsing this in anyway, btw -- never used any of this stuff, but others have used similar things.

  7. LPR,

    Have been following and enjoying your posts as of late. This article about water is great- very straightforward.

    Some advice on water.

    Suggest you check out local water companies first. Chances are that there is a company that sells big 20L blue water cooler jugs of water bottled from a nearby local source such as a natural spring or well. Just give them a call and ask where the source of their water is and how the handle and bottle it. Narrow down the companies that bottle only from natural sources with minimal processing. Just try (sample) water from these companies and find out which is best.

    This is how one found the appropriate water when first moving to Victoria.

    There are many benefits to acquiring water in such a way one of which is that it is relatively economical to do so.

    If you can get free well water, even better (but you still may want to try the others).

    Good luck with your hunt for good water.


  8. MarshalN -- so glad you posted that link! That's the exact bottle I saw pictured on another tea blog, suggested for this very same thing.

    Matt -- a warm welcome to you :) Victoria is such a beautiful city. Unique in many ways. I've visited many times and always enjoy it there. I hadn't thought about checking out local water companies, but I read on the Something Smuggled In tea blog (another Seattle-area blogger) there's a free well water supply near here. Thank you for the suggestions (really enjoyed the link you posted about the Korean Master Potter today).

  9. Something I found from my blog while I'm re-tagging all my old posts. Same finding as yours, basically

  10. I'd suggest trying a few more times with a buddy who can swap waters on you. While I do not doubt the difference between water, I doubt your perception of it and you should to. I know many of you don't believe in the blind approach but it does in fact matter.

  11. Anonymous -- I appreciate your comment, even though I bristle a little at your implication that I'm bringing an unalterable bias or agenda into my testing of different waters, especially with this being my first time even trying this. But I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and will re-do this tap-vs-Fiji water again, blind. But if I find once again it's the Fiji water I prefer, well.. so much for your doubt of my honesty with myself!

    That said, I do like the idea of blind tasting on this matter of water. Probably as good for all these different tastings of pu-erhs, as well. But I'm far less interested in rigging my tea sessions for blind-tasted, unbiased, scientific results than I am in just sitting down to taste and drink some tea, good or bad. :)

  12. Hey I really like your post because I've always been drinking tap water with my tea. I live in North Vancouver and the tap water here is pretty amazing compared to other places, especially just south of the border. But the only criticism I can make is that I really don't want to buy water. Water should be free and the more hands and manufacturing that go into bottled water, the less natural it should taste. I've seen Fiji water in many stores but I've always thought that tap water tastes much better than all the bottled waters I've tasted (Safeway, London Drugs, Dasani), but tap water still has chemicals added to it. I've read the comments and people are talking about well water that is free so it started to make me think that I should go and fetch water myself. I've got a flowing creek close to my house and I'm sure if I boiled the water for 10 minutes and stirred it here and there that would get all the bacteria from dog feces out of it. I think I might have to conduct this experiment now, tap water vs dog feces water... I'll let you know the results. Maybe you should try to find some pristine natural water and treat it yourself. I'm sure all the good water in the world isn't all held up in Fiji :p

  13. D-Wong,
    Like you I don't like the idea of paying for water, although I'm not sure I'd go so far as to boil up some local creek water. You're a brave soul :)
    I've heard about people adding liquid minerals to water to improve the taste of tea and I want to try that one of these days. Of course, I'd still be paying for the bottle of minerals, but I'm sure it's much cheaper than buying bottled water.
    Thanks for stopping by :) Always nice to make connections with other Northwesterners!